By Mark Haddon, David Fickling Books, 1993
One night, Christopher finds his neighbour's dog Wellington dead in her yard, stabbed with a gardening fork. He decides to investigate the murder, recording his progress in a notebook for his teacher. As an admirer of Sherlock Holmes, he consults the great detective's words and actions whenever he reaches an impasse.
But Christopher is not an ordinary detective, even in young adult literature. Although the text of the book never mentions the matter, he has fairly severe Asperger's Syndrome (the cover notes are not nearly so coy). He lives with his father, after the death of his mother to a heart attack.
Christopher is obsessed with prime numbers; indeed, he numbers the chapters in ascending primes rather than the standard numeric sequence. He watches the cars that pass his school bus to determine whether it will be a Good Day (3, 4 or 5 red cars in a row for Quite Good, Good, or Super Good) or a Black Day (4 yellow cars). He is contact-averse, preferring to touch the tips of his parents' fingers rather than hug them. He always tells the truth, because the multiplicity of possible lies gives him vertigo.
For example, this morning for breakfast I had Ready Brek and some hot raspberry milkshake. But if I say that I actually had Shreddies and a mug of tea* I start thinking about Coco-Pops and lemonade and porridge and Dr. Pepper and how I wasn't eating my breakfast in Egypt and there wasn't a rhinoceros in the room and Father wasn't wearing a diving suit and so on and even writing this makes me feel shaky and scared, like I do when I'm standing on the top of a very tall building and there are thousands of houses and cars and people below me and my head is so full of all these things that I'm afraid that I'm going to forget to stand up straight and hang over the rail and I'm going to fall over and be killed.
*But I wouldn't have Shreddies and tea because they are both brown.
This aversion to lies is Christopher's undoing. Although he does eventually find out who killed the dog, the revelation is overshadowed by more important, more troubling discoveries about the loss of his mother. The shock of it, and the destruction of trust for his father, sends him on a dizzying train journey to London, where he is challenged to the limits of his ability. He copes by doing complex mathematical puzzles in his head and retreating into a fugue state when he can't deal with the stimuli any more.
The book's ending, though not a complete resolution to Christopher's problems, gives an intriguing glimpse where he will end up. As a reader, I was left satisfied, but faintly wishing I could know what happens next. Christopher never regrets who and what he is, and has definite, if challenging, plans for the future. I think that's why the book is so gripping.
The story is simply told, with the clarity and gentleness of someone who really does understand Asperger's Syndrome. How much Haddon researched the syndrome, or how much he has it himself, is unclear. But I come from a family of Asperger's and near Asperger's types, and the book rings true to me.